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    Nightingale in a Music Box

    Down the memory hole

    "Nightingale in a Music Box" is a talk-heavy but crisp and tantalizing mind-game involving a woman who finds herself the victim of a top-secret memory-eating bacterium.


    How good can a science fiction movie possibly be, really, if it doesn't have light sabers, ray guns, robots, warp speed, time travel, men in black, or in fact a special effect of any kind?

    Directed by: Hurt McDermott.
    Cast: Kelley Hazen, Andrzej Krukowski, Catherine O'Connor, Pamela Webster, Taylor Grove, Jillian Dirks, Trish Niemeck, Jane Blass, Deron Grams, Serena Moy.
    Cinematography: Michael Dunne.
    Edited by: Hurt McDermott.

    Related links: Official site
    Brooklyn Museum 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn 8:00pm | Tuesday June 7

    Brooklyn International Film Festival 2005
    • The Real Dirt on Farrmer John
    • Nightingale in a Music Box
    • Official site
    Answer: very good. In fact, better than a lot of its more technologically spectacular cousins, and much, much better than any movie with Jar Jar Binks in it.

    "Nightingale in a Music Box" is a science-fiction movie built on words and ideas. The "nightingale" is a woman named Robin, and that's all she knows about herself. Her memory has been wiped clean by a top-secret laboratory-created microbe, and she's been caught spying on the offices of Newgarden Biolabs, the very company that created the wonderbug that was used on her.

    Figuring out what has happened is a job that falls to a "special situations security consult" — the corporate reincarnation of a plain old fashioned intelligence agent — who is attractive enough in a severe, officious way that she has to go by just her last name, Burke, to be taken seriously as a tough guy.

    Nightingale in a Music Box  
    Under questioning — which is most of what happens in this talk-heavy mind game — poor Robin has no memories to grasp at so she grasps at the possibility of resistance.

    "I want to see my husband," she demands.

    "How will you be sure we have the right husband?" Burke retorts.

    "If I did something wrong, charge me with a crime. Let me see a lawyer," she shoots back.

    "A crime you don't remember? Do you feel capable of committing a crime? Do you feel capable of forgetting it if you did commit a crime?" Burke taunts. "Relax, Ms. McAlister, we're the good guys."

    Separating the good guys from the bad guys will not prove so simple, but for now Robin can only play along with her captors and try to figure out who she is and what happened to her. It's a consistently interesting exploration of the strange ways memory works — and what might happen if somebody scrambled yours.

    There is a little action and suspense involved, but the adventure is mostly mental. It works because it's smart, and because of the performances of the two leads. Catherine O'Connor as Robin is alternately cooperative and tentatively defiant in her uncertainty about who she is and what's happening to her. And Kelley Hazen as the inquisitor Burke really pulls off a feat here — in a role that consists primarily of talk — and an analytical kind of talk that by rights should get tiring for the audience. But maybe it's her character's Voice Of Authority that works not only on her subject but also on us. I, at least, found her performance controlled but commanding. Andrzej Krukowski is, for whatever cross-cultural reason, less persuasive as a Slavic-born spymaster named Sowa. But otherwise, "Nightingale in a Music Box" just clicks, with some of the mindplay of "Memento" and the stripped-down, low-budget anti-style of last year's "Primer."

    JUNE 2, 2005

    Reader comments on Nightingale in a Music Box:

  • Jillian and Taylor   from Tinamarie Nelson, Jun 18, 2010

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